The Art of Just Knowing

How one woman rediscovered the power of her intuition

| January/February 2002

MY GRANDMOTHER KNEW things beyond the familiar realm of the senses. When I was a child, I asked my mother, 'But how did she know what time we’d arrive today, when we didn’t tell her we were coming?'

'She just knows,' she’d answer.

Grandma lived without a telephone on a cotton farm in the middle of Georgia. We lived in the mountains of North Carolina, a good 10 hours away. Our visits always were random and spontaneous; she never had any advance warning that we were on the way.

Hoping to surprise his mother, my father frequently would shut off the engine to our old Chevy and let it coast into her driveway. It didn’t work. We never caught her unprepared. She always knew when we were coming, and she was ready: fresh sheets on the beds, dinner cooked, Grandma waiting on the front porch.

My grandmother also knew when someone was in trouble. She would say there was a knock on the cabinet door. I never heard the knock, but I believed her. And I believed her when she spoke of magic, ghosts, spirits, and fairies that danced in the rain. During each visit, I would sit on her lap, mesmerized, and ask her to repeat her stories about the wonders I could not see.

At some point during my college years, between Logic 101 and Psychology 213, I allowed the real world—the world of 'If you can’t taste, touch, or feel it, it doesn’t exist'—to take over. Settled snugly into an educational system that valued analytical reasoning, I forgot my grandmother’s world of the unseen. Especially after I chose to pursue a scientific career in the field of psychology.

But in 1983 my professionally instilled assumptions about the nature of reality were turned upside down. I was working as a mental health analyst for the state attorney general’s office, and one morning my boss requested a list of documents she needed for an upcoming trial. Without a second thought, I wrote down the document numbers and handed the list to my secretary. She soon came to my desk and said, 'These are not what Karen asked for. These are random letters that I boxed up to be sent to the archives this morning.' I could not believe my ears. Confused by my error, I quickly wrote down the correct document numbers and went off to lunch.

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